Spring football practices are underway for high schools across the state. While the first games of the 2016 season are still several months away, Florida high schools are allowed a maximum of 20 practice sessions between April 25 to May 31, according to FHSAA (Florida High School Athletic Association) guidelines.
Here’s a look at what schools in our coverage area are working with:
Land O’ Lakes High School
Coach: Brian Wachtel (6th year)
2015 Record: 3-7
Last season was rough for the Gators, who failed to win a home game at “The Swamp,” and were shutout by their primary rival in Sunlake High. Playing five consecutive road games didn’t help the cause, either. To relive their magical 8-2 season back in 2013, the Gators must find some consistent play at the quarterback position, whether that is from rising senior Spencer Childress or rising junior Jude May. Though the team loses their top two rushers from last season in Rashawn Kindell (526 yards rushing, 5.7 yards per carry) and Tommy Farmer (417 yards, 7 TDs), the Gators may have a breakout candidate in tailback Quintin Smith, who’ll be a senior. On defense, the Gators return standout safety Justin Kren, a capable tackler (51 solo tackles) and ballhawk (five interceptions).
Pasco County High School
Coach: Tom McHugh (9th year)
2015 Record: 4-6
A difficult schedule and some tough breaks steered the Pirates into a losing 2015 season. Despite starting the year 3-0, Pasco High ran into some tough competition in the middle of the season, losing four straight games to North Marion, Jesuit, Mitchell and Sunlake high schools. A heartbreaking 44-43 overtime loss to Springstead High added fuel to the fire. While the win-loss total doesn’t show it, the Pirates were loaded with talent, including cornerback Jayvauhn Myers (Auburn signee), offensive lineman Jamal Mention (Coffeyville (Kansas) Community College signee) and tight end Nick Bryant (Middle Tennessee signee). Coach McHugh must find a way to replace those productive players, and find a reliable quarterback after Michael Penix Jr. transferred to Tampa Bay Tech.
Sunlake High School
Coach: Bill Browning (9th year)
2015 Record: 8-3
Another year, another terrific record. That’s been the narrative for the Seahawks over the past six seasons under the leadership of head coach Bill Browning. Since 2010, the team has a combined record of 53-13. Though the team returns several players at the skill positions, one of the big questions leading into the season is how the team will fare on the offensive line, with the departures of Bryce Cooley (Angelo State signee), Joe Russum (Black Hills State signee) and Leo Baez (Bluefield College). If the Seahawks can create cohesion and provide enough protection in the trenches for standout pro-style quarterback Justin Hall (1,729 yards, 17 TDs, 3 INTs), they should be in store for another winning season.
Wesley Chapel High School
Coach: Anthony Egan (1st year)
2015 record: 2-8
The Wildcats have suffered four straight losing seasons, and now it’s up to first-year head coach Anthony Egan — a former River Ridge High assistant — to turn the program around. Luckily for Egan, the cupboard isn’t bare. Signal-caller Jacob Thomas (44 percent completion, 1,825 yards, 17 TDs, 13 INTs) returns as well as pass-catchers Ben Goins (31 receptions, 403 yards) and Devin Singletary (23 receptions, 240 yards). On defense, the Wildcats return their top three tacklers in Marcus Gillott, Ellrie Allen and Christian Austin. To improve their record, the Wildcats must find a way to develop a consistent rushing attack (rushers averaged just 2.6 yards per carry) and they must win close games (the team lost three games by seven points or fewer in 2015.)
Wiregrass Ranch High School
Coach: Mark Kantor (2nd year)
2015 record: 2-8
Coach Mark Kantor embarks on year two of what is perhaps a long-term rebuilding job. Prior to Kantor’s hiring in 2015, the Bulls had three coaches in four years, combining for an 8-32 record during that span. To improve in 2016, the Bulls must find a way to stay healthy (19 season-ending injuries were suffered in 2015) and significantly improve on offense. The team averaged just 10.6 points per game in 2015, and was shutout in half of their games. If the Bulls can’t muster up better production from the quarterback position, it’ll be tough to secure a winning record.
Zephyrhills High School
Coach: Nick Carroll (1st year)
2015 record: 8-3
The Bulldogs notched their fourth straight winning season in 2015, but they’ll enter the 2016 season with a new head coach in Nick Carroll, a former Sunlake High assistant. Carroll will try to duplicate the success of former coach Reggie Roberts, but will have a challenge on his hands. Running back Antwione Sims, the team’s leading offensive playmaker, tore his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) over a month ago, and will likely miss several games in 2016. Additionally, Carroll must find a way to get Bulldogs players to gel, and learn the style of offense and defense he’s implementing. Carroll expects several incoming freshmen and sophomores to make an impact in his first season.
Zephyrhills Christian Academy
Coach: Mike Smith (2nd year, 11-man)
2015 Record: 4-4
The Warriors had a respectable 2015 season, if you consider it was their first season playing 11-man football after they dominated the 6-man ranks for several years. However, the team may be in for a setback in 2016, as they’ll be without their top offensive player, wide receiver Issac Johnson (62 receptions, 1,013 yards), and top defensive player, defensive lineman J’ Won Pickett. Both Johnson (Iowa Western Community College) and Pickett (Minnesota State Community College) are playing football at junior colleges next season. The Warriors will also have to develop a new quarterback with the impending graduation of Matthew Iovine, an accurate passer (67 percent completion, 1,475 yards). Being without last year’s quarterback and top receiver may open the door to additional carries for returning running backs such as John Emmanual, Dwight Thomas and Mykh’ael Chavis.
Published May 4, 2016